Jul 22, 2015

Kō, The Worlds Largest Crop

It is believed that the cultivation of sugarcane originated on the island of New Guinea in the South Pacific about 8000 years ago. Today, sugarcane, or kō as it is called in Hawaiian, is the worlds largest crop. In 2010 it was estimated that over 23.8 million hectares of sugarcane were cultivated in over 90 countries around the world, with a worldwide harvest of 1.69 billion tones.

Around 600 A.D., the first settlers in Hawaii brought to the islands several varieties of sugarcane. The Native Hawaiians cultivated sugarcane, and ate it as food and medicine. They even chewed the cane stalk for its sweet juices and to maintain their teeth and gums. The juices from the sugarcane sweetened puddings made of taro, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, and bananas. Other parts of the sugarcane plant were used, including the leaves for thatching, the flower stalks for game darts, and the charcoal for dying. Interestingly, before European contact, the Native Hawaiians never produced sugar from the cane.
Captain James Cook arriving in Hawaii in 1778

When European explorer Captain James Cook first arrived in Hawaii in 1778, he recorded in his journal, "We saw...a few trees about the villages; near which...we could observe several plantations of plantains and sugar-canes." Unfortunately on February 14, 1779, Captain James Cook, returned to Hawaii during his third visit to the Pacific island group. The natives welcomed him as a God, and when they found out that he wasn't, they murdered him.

Eventually sugar turned into a big business and generated rapid population growth in the Hawaiian islands with 337,000 people immigrating over the span of a century. On January 3, 1852; 175 Chinese contract laborers arrived on the ship Thetis. Eventually, other ethnic groups came to Hawaii to work in the plantations, including the Portuguese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Spaniards, Russians, and Norwegians. This situation of extreme globalization resulted in the multiculturalism of Hawaii and the Hawaii Creole English, commonly referred as "Pidgin," which developed during Hawaii's plantation days and is now spoken by more than half of the residents in Hawaii.
Chinese Contract Laborers (1852)

The sugarcane grown and processed in Hawaii was shipped primarily to the United States and, in smaller quantities, globally. In 1836 the first 8,000 pounds of sugar and molasses was shipped to the United States.

To me, the best by-product of sugarcane is molasses. To make molasses, sugarcane is harvested and stripped of leaves. Its juice is extracted usually by cutting, crushing or mashing. The juice is boiled to concentrate it, promoting sugar crystallization. The result of this first boiling is called first syrup, and it has the highest sugar content. First syrup is usually referred to in the Southern states of the US as "cane syrup", as opposed to molasses. Second molasses is created from a second boiling and sugar extraction, and has a slight bitter taste and is known as dark molasses. The third boiling of the sugar syrup yields blackstrap molasses, known for its robust flavor.
HC&C Sugar Cane in Central Maui

Today, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) cultivates sugarcane on 36,000 acres in Central Maui, producing raw and specialty sugars and molasses, using state-of-the-art agronomic practices which make their fields among the highest yielding in the world. HC&S’ premium specialty sugar products are marketed worldwide under the Maui Brand name. Molasses is shipped to the mainland to be processed and sold to consumers. Matson, the states largest cargo shipper, has been transporting molasses from Honolulu Harbor for 30 years and currently ships it about once a week.

If you cook, you know that cane molasses is a common ingredient in baking and cooking. I love the sweet, complex flavors of molasses and use it along with maple syrup on pancakes, in barbecue sauce and marinades, in baked beans, and to glaze roast duck. Dark molasses is used in cakes and gingerbread cookies, just to name a few.

Check out some of these molasses recipes:

Honey Glazed Roast Duck
1 (5 to 6-pound*) duck (available at Misaki's grocery store here on Moloka'i)
2 cups boiling-hot water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Ingredients for honey glaze:
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha chili sauce, or to your taste

Put oven rack in the middle position and preheat oven to 425˚F. Tuck wing tips under bird (see photo above). Remove excess fat from body cavity and neck, then rinse duck. Score skin with knife, in a criss-cross pattern, then prick skin all over with a sharp fork. Rub duck with salt, pepper and ground ginger. Fold neck skin under body, then put duck, breast side up, on a rack in a 13 x 9 x 3-inch roasting pan. Pour boiling water into pan. Roast duck, 40 minutes, then remove from oven. Turn duck over using 2 wooden spoons, and roast 40 minutes more.

Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, combine and simmer glaze, stirring until it gets thick and syrupy. Turn duck over again (breast side up), tilting duck to drain any liquid from cavity into pan. Glaze duck all over (top and bottom) and continue to roast duck until it is a beautiful mahogany color., about 20 minutes more. (total roasting time: about 1 hour and 40 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 180˚F). Tilt duck to drain any more liquid from cavity into pan. Transfer duck to a cutting board, cover with foil, and let rest 15 minutes before carving. Discard liquid in roasting pan. Serve duck with a mixture of wild and brown rice, sautéed beet greens, and a nice red wine like pinot noir. Makes 4 servings.

*Note: Allow at least 1 pound of duck per person, as there is a rather large ratio of fat and bone to meat.

Island Pork Ribs
Island Pork Ribs
Click on photo to view larger
Ingredients for Cooking Solution:
3 pounds pork ribs, cut into 3 rib sections
cold water to cover ribs
1/3 cup sea salt
6 cloves garlic, chopped
4 inches ginger, smashed
1 small onion, sliced

Ingredients for BBQ sauce:
1 tablespoon Tabasco Sauce
2 (15 ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey
2 cups minced yellow onions
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons unsulphured dark molasses
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup crushed pineapple, canned with juice
2 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoon minced ginger

Place ribs in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add the salt, garlic, ginger and onion. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 1 hour. The ribs are now fully cooked. Now it's a matter of grilling the ribs with the sauce for flavor.

Prepare the sauce while the ribs are cooking. Place the sauce ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 1 hour with the lid off, stirring often. When ready to barbecue, baste the ribs with the sauce and place them on medium-hot grill. Baste frequently until ribs are well coated and heated through, being careful not to burn the sauce. Keep the ribs warm in a 250˚F oven until ready to serve. Makes 6 servings.

Easy Molasses Glazed Carrots
8 carrots
8 onions
1/4 tsp. salt
dash pepper
1/4 cup unsulphured dark molasses (lightly grease measuring cup to prevent the molasses from sticking)
2 tablespoons butter

Heat oven to 350˚F. Cook carrots and onions until almost tender in just enough salted water to be absorbed during cooking. Place in casserole. Sprinkle with pepper. Dribble with molasses and dot with butter. Bake, uncovered 25 minutes (basting occasionally) until vegetables have browned and are nicely glazed. Makes 4 servings.

Best Ever Oatmeal Molasses Rolls
 teaspoons active dry yeast
tablespoon dark brown sugar
 cup lukewarm water
 cup milk
 cup rolled oats (old fashioned oats)
 cup butter cut into cubes
tablespoons unsulphured dark molasses (lightly grease measuring cup to prevent the molasses from sticking)
teaspoons kosher salt, not table salt
2 1/2-3
 cups flour (unbleached all-purpose or bread flour)
tablespoons melted butter for brushing tops of rolls

Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar. Let stand until bubbly. If it doesn’t get bubbly, throw it out and get some new yeast.

Scald milk then add it to the butter in your mixing bowl. When butter has melted, add brown sugar, rolled oats, molasses, and salt. Blend thoroughly and cool to lukewarm.

Add egg and mix well. Add the yeast and mix to incorporate it. Then mix in 2 ½ cups of the flour. Add what you need to of the remaining ½ cup of flour until the dough loses its sheen. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl and put it in a greased bowl. Turn to coat and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours. It can sit overnight as well. It doesn't rise a lot.

Turn out the chilled dough on a floured work surface and knead or fold and turn the dough slightly. Cut dough into 12 balls. Press each ball into a flat rectangle with your fingers, then roll up and tuck ends under. Place seam-side down in a well-buttered 9 inch round pan. Brush all over with ½ of melted butter and sprinkle with a little of the rolled oats. Let rise until doubled in size in a warm place, about two hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until rolls are nicely browned and sound hollow when you tap their tops. The internal temperature should be 190 degrees. Remove from the pans and brush generously with remaining melted butter. Let cool on a rack for 5-10 minutes. Serve warm…with salted butter! Makes 12 rolls.

Ginger Molasses Bundt Cake
3 1/4 cups white whole-wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
5 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsulphured dark molasses (lightly grease measuring cup to prevent the molasses from sticking)
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
1 cup coconut or other vegetable oil
confectioners sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Liberally grease and flour a large bundt pan.

Combine the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt and set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the molasses, honey, yogurt, fresh ginger, eggs, and vanilla. Next, whisk in the boiling water and oil. Fold in the dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs. Cool for 15 minutes, and then turn cake onto a plate to cool completely. Dust with confectioners sugar before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Old Fashioned Raisin Pie
2 1/2 cups seedless raisins
2.75 cups water
1/2 cup unsulphured dark molasses (lightly grease measuring cup to prevent the molasses from sticking)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon lemon rind (grated)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 package refrigerated pie crust

Heat oven to 425˚F. Wash raisins. Add water, molasses, salt, and spices. Mix cornstarch and water; add to raisin mixture and cook until thick. Add lemon rind and juice. Cool. Pour into a 9 inch pie pan lined with unbaked pastry. Cover with remaining pastry rolled 1/8 inch thick; trim seal and flute edge. Cut a gash in top crust to allow for escape of steam. Bake 40 minutes or until pastry has browned. Makes 6 servings.

Molasses Pears with Honey
4 Bosc pears, firm but ripe
3 tablespoons unsulphured dark molasses
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons honey

Peel pears and cut into halves length wise and then remove the stem and core.

Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Add molasses and butter to pan and stir and heat until butter melts. Add pear halves, cut side down in pan. Cook for about 2 minutes without disturbing. Baste top sides of pears with molasses mixture with a spoon. Turn pears over and cover skillet with a lid so that pears will steam while cooking. Turn heat to low and cook until pear pieces are fork tender, about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pear pieces to a serving dish and drizzle honey over them. Serve warm. Makes 4 servings.

Molasses Cookies
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup unsulphured dark molasses (lightly grease measuring cup to prevent the molasses from sticking)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup granulated white sugar for covering the cookie balls before baking.

In a large bowl sift or whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 2 - 3 minutes). Add the oil, molasses, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Beat in the flour mixture mixture until well incorporated. Cover and chill the batter until firm (about 2 hours or overnight).

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place about 1 cup of white granulated sugar in a medium sized bowl. When the dough has chilled sufficiently, roll into 1 inch balls. Then roll the balls of dough into the sugar, coating them thoroughly. Place on the baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart and, with the bottom of a glass, flatten the cookies slightly. Bake for about 9 - 10 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies have crinkles yet are barely dry. (They will look a little underdone.) Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to a week. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Molasses Ice Cream with Pecans
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 (14 oz.) can Eagle Brand® Sweetened Condensed Milk
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 cup chopped pecans

Beat heavy whipping cream, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg in large bowl on medium speed with electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold in sweetened condensed milk, molasses and pecans until combined. Pour into 9 x 5-inch loaf pan or other 2-quart container; cover. Freeze 6 hours or until firm. Makes 2 1/2 quarts.

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